Influenza: we are marching quickly towards the peak of infections, which should be at Christmas, earlier than in the past. Between 28 November and 4 December (the latest bulletin issued by the Higher Institute of Health) the Italian average incidence was 16 cases per thousand assisted (it was 13.1 in the previous week).
Emilia Romagna is, with Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo, the region where the maximum intensity of virus circulation has been reached: 17.3 patients per thousand.
Patients are increasing in all age groups, but, as usual, children are more affected, especially those under five years of age: 50.2 cases per thousand assisted (41.2 in the previous week). In addition to the circulation of flu viruses, “other respiratory viruses have also contributed to the increase in the number of flu-like syndromes in these first weeks of surveillance”, warns the Influnet site. An epidemic “with a bang”, which dwarfs the data of the past seasons and which is affected by the easing of the security measures dictated by Covid, which had almost made even the classic seasonal influences disappear from our radars. Last year the peak was reached between the end of March and the beginning of April and stopped at an average of 5 patients per thousand, while in 2020 the peak was 2 patients per thousand inhabitants. We haven’t seen such a massive flu since 2009.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The symptoms of the flu are high fever, which can last up to several days, cough, runny nose, body aches, as well as headaches, chills, loss of appetite. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur, especially in children.
Most people recover in a week to 10 days, but some people—those 65 years of age and older, young children and adults, and children with chronic medical conditions—are at increased risk of more serious complications or worsening of their condition. This year’s flu is – improperly – defined as “Australian” because that is the first continent where it manifested itself and it turned out to be the worst in the last five years.
How is the flu transmitted?
By air, through droplets of saliva and respiratory secretions. This can occur directly (through coughing, sneezing and very close conversations) or indirectly (dispersion of droplets and secretions on objects and surfaces).
Those affected by the virus are already contagious during the incubation period, before symptoms appear. An adult person can transmit the virus three to seven days after the onset of the disease, while children are contagious for longer. For this reason, epidemiologists insist that it is very important to immunize the elderly, the “grandparents” who often take care of children, the most subject to contagion (especially those who attend communities such as nurseries and kindergartens).
Complications: what are they and how serious?
The complications of the “Australian” range from bacterial pneumonia, to dehydration, to the worsening of pre-existing diseases (chronic diseases such as, for example, diabetes, immune or cardiovascular and respiratory diseases), to sinusitis and ear infections, the latter above all in children. In general, complications are more frequent in the population over 65 years of age and with conditions at risk. Some studies have shown an increased risk of serious disease in very young children and pregnant women. However, severe cases of flu can also occur in healthy people who do not fit into any of the categories listed above.
What if you also get sick of Covid?
It can happen to fall ill with Covid and “Australian” at the same time, even if it is more likely that a single virus prevails in the body. However, “the co-presence is not uncommon – warns Icilio Dodi, director of general and emergency pediatrics at the Maggiore hospital – and the combination is a further stress factor”. The problem, as well as for the individual, is for the health system, which is facing flu-related hospitalizations in patients who are also positive for Covid, and who therefore must be isolated. For this reason, the advice of doctors, especially to frail and elderly patients, is that – in this winter still not out of the coronavirus pandemic – to get vaccinated against the flu, as well as against Covid.
Is there still time to get vaccinated?
The flu vaccination campaign began in Parma – as in the whole Region – on 24 October and will continue until the end of the year. The main administrators of the vaccine are family doctors, but you can also contact the affiliated pharmacies (the list on the website www.vaccino-antinfluenzale.it) and the public health and hygiene service of the Ausl.
For those who have already fallen ill, the vaccination will have the effect of recalling the immunological memory and there will be an increase in the response. In any case, vaccinating those who have already contracted the disease does not lead to an increased risk of side effects.
Precautions to not get sick?
As with any germ or virus, the advice is careful hygiene: wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing and after going to public places and means of transport. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based cleaning solutions. Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief (preferably paper) when coughing and sneezing and immediately throw it in the trash or, if it is made of fabric, in laundry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands: this is how germs (not just flu ones) spread. In crowded places, it is advisable to use a mask, a good habit that Covid has taught us.
What to do if there is already the “fever”?
If you are ill, stay at home: no work, school or travel. You will not infect other people and will lower the risk of complications and concomitant infections (superinfections). Stay warm, in a comfortable environment, being careful to drink plenty of water (especially if you have a high fever), herbal teas and infusions. Assuming you have an appetite, follow a light but nutritious diet. Fruit is good, especially oranges, kiwis and tangerines, and vegetables, especially cabbage and broccoli family vegetables. Furthermore, hot soups, based on legumes and cereals, which have a balanced composition from a nutritional point of view, can be beneficial.
How to create a «virus free» environment?
In the family, the best strategy to stem the flu is what the pediatrician Icilio Dodi defines as a “cocoon strategy”: creating an environment with the elderly, adults and children who go to school vaccinated, so as not to infect the little ones, the category at this time more at risk of contagion. Avoid bringing the little ones into closed and crowded places, such as large shops, supermarkets, buses. “Better an afternoon outdoors, if it’s not too cold.” At home, air the rooms often to prevent germs from proliferating. Sleep at least seven hours a night (a rested body also has a stronger immune system) and use a humidifier with balsamic substances.
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